COLCHESTER – The Vermont Philharmonic closed its winter program with a pretty spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Saturday at the Elley-Long Music Center. And there was plenty more, including a virtuoso performance by a teen cellist. (The program was also performed Sunday at the Barre Opera House.)
Still, the most intriguing and unexpected work was the suite from Virgil Thomson’s film score for “The Plow That Broke the Plains,” a rich and colorful slice of Depression Era Americana. Thomson (1896-1989), also a well-known music critic, created this flavorful tapestry weaving seemingly American melodies with the film’s sense of despair. (There were even some Aaron Copland sounds.)
The music, though, wasn’t depressing and the mood was even further leavened by an authentic-sounding jazz-blues section. Lou Kosma, longtime music director of Vermont’s oldest community orchestra, led the 50-plus-piece ensemble in a spirited and moving performance. The woodwinds were particularly effective in creating the moods, the brass for the blues, and the atmosphere was given even more authenticity with banjo (Jason Bergman) and guitar (Brayden Baird).
Layla Morris, a junior at Champlain Valley Union High School, was the able soloist in the first movement (Nicht zu schnell) of Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129, as part of her award as winner of the Philharmonic’s Borowicz Memorial Student Scholarship. It took Morris a moment to warm up, but then her performance was a mix of espressivo and virtuosity, “living” this Romantic work. Her warm and heartfelt performance was sensitively accompanied by the members of the Philharmonic.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, may be the most recognizable symphonic work of all time, but how many really know this masterpiece? In a traditional symphonic performance, Kosma and the Philharmonic delivered both the important details and the passion. There were a few sloppy passages, mainly in the quieter passages of the opening Allegro con brio and the slow movement, Andante con moto.
That all changed with the Scherzo-Allegro, when precision-fueled passion created real drama, and that drama built to the grandeur in the finale, Allegro-presto. The details were all there as the sound grew to glorious. It took real control to make this happen and the result was genuinely exciting. This may be the best the Philharmonic has played in 30 years.
The program opened with a blast of Wagner, the Prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin.” It was brassy and exciting.